Bitting Advice - Mouth Conformation

(References: Neue Schule web site)
British Dressage rules, permitted horse/rider equipment

Mouth conformation is assessed when the horse is relaxed and with his mouth shut. Gently part the lips at the side and observe if the tongue is bulging through the teeth. If it is this indicates that the tongue is large and in my experience a large tongue is the most common form of mouth discomfort if it is not accommodated with the correct design of mouthpiece. The outer edges of the tongue are far more sensitive than the centre and obviously these parts of the tongue are going to experience increased pressure - especially with the single jointed bit. See if you can check out the room between the tongue and the roof of the mouth, you may slip a finger in through the bars and feel how much (if any) clearance there is. This should be done initially without the bit in. Then fit your bit, look at it at rest, take up a contact with your reins at the same angle as if you were on board, and see how it shifts position and what pressure points it is using. This will obviously determine what shape of bit and which port if any, we would use. Thankfully we now have many bits at our disposal that are designed specifically to accommodate the larger tongue. Teeth do need regular attention - once per 6 months - by a fully qualified Equine Dentist or Vet and it is also advisable to have the back checked by a reputable Equine Physiotherapist - again at least once per year.

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People are usually left-handed or right-handed and it is perfectly normal for a horse to be better on one rein than the another, however this usually evens up through training. However if this is very exaggerated, it may be, for instance if the horse will not bend to the left, the right hand side of the mouth is sore, as obviously the rein is not being taken forward on the right side. This may be due to over-sensitivity on that bar and the way to check the bars out is to use the ball of the finger or thumb and exert even pressure on both sides. If he flinches or throws his head up this is indicative of over-sensitivity. There are many causes and if over-sensitivity is found then veterinary assistance should be sought as x-rays may be required as part of the diagnostic procedure.

Mouth conformation varies enormously between breeds. For instance the Thoroughbreds generally have "easy" mouth conformation; the tongue tends to lie neatly on the floor of the mouth with plenty of room between the tongue and the roof of the mouth (palate). However they can be thin skinned over angular bars. The Irish Draught Cross and the Dutch Warmblood are renowned for having a particularly large tongue and thus everything is nearer the palate. Arabs and Connemaras also usually have very little room for a bit - the tongue is not always larger but the palate is generally lower even if they have not got the dished head.

This usually means that a single jointed bit with a nutcracker action will not be suitable. However, we now have many bits designed to accommodate this mouth conformation. Trakheners, especially when they have the dished face (this obviously leaves less room for everything), can prove tricky to bit as they are generally extremely sensitively skinned and this continues through the mouth. The same degree of skin sensitivity may apply to Cremellos and Appaloosas etc, that have the pink lips. Shires, Clydesdales, etc, generally have very fleshy foldy lips and occasionally a loose ring even though of high quality and correctly fitted may nip and they usually have the fleshy tongues to boot. We can be much more resourceful now when sourcing a bit in order to accommodate the variance in mouth conformation and the Neue Schüle Collection is extremely innovative in design and incorporates both thicker/thinner and smaller/larger mouthpieces.

There are basically seven points of control that the bit can work on. 1, the poll, 2, the nose, 3, the curb groove (the curb does not have to lie in the chin groove to be effective). Within the mouth 4, The corners of the lips, 5, lower and upper bars, 6, the roof and 7, the tongue.

The poll is a very sensitive area and generally very little consideration is given to this. In my experience many horses that are resistant to poll pressure are extremely happy and compliant if a padded bridle is used or you could improvise with a gel poll guard, etc.

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SNAFFLES (ALL DRESSAGE LEGAL)

THE ACTION OF THE LOOSE RING:

Unlike the nearly straight sections of regular jointed snaffles mouthpiece, the curved bars of the JP bits eliminate the "nutcracker" action and stop the bit from hitting the roof of the mouth, tongue and bars.

The most popular. The loose ring has much more movement and play than a fixed butt or cheek. It discourages fixing, blocking and leaning and encourages mouthing. It allows the mouthpiece more movement so that it may follow the angle of the tongue because the angle of the poll and the horse’s overall outline changes through different work etc.

THE ACTION OF THE EGGBUTT:

This is a fixed cheek. Everything remains stiller in the mouth and if a horse is lacking in the confidence to stretch into the contact this may prove extremely beneficial.

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THE ACTION OF THE BAUCHER:

This causes poll pressure (dressage legal as a Snaffle or as a Bradoon used in conjunction with a Weymouth). When a contact is taken the upper arm is angled forwards causing the mouthpiece to lift - thereby suspending it in the mouth and reducing the pressure across the tongue and the bars - this is often beneficial for cases of over sensitivity. Any extension above the mouthpiece causes poll pressure - this in itself has a head lowering action. However, if the horse is going forward into a contact and active behind this will encourage a rounding action and help tremendously with the outline. I have recently sought clarification from BD and in turn the FEI regarding the legal limit on the Baucher arms and there actually was none!! From the 1st Feb 2005 the maximum height of the baucher/hanging cheek snaffle will be approximately 12cm - this is from top to bottom - not just the upper arm.

THE ACTION OF THE FULL CHEEK:

 (KK Ultra Full Cheek)

This reinforces the turning aids and providing the mouthpiece is the correct size will not allow the mouthpiece to slide back and forth across the tongue and bars thus reducing friction. If the upper cheek is fixed to the bridle with fulmer keepers this will fix the mouthpiece in the mouth and also give some poll pressure. The full cheek is very useful for babies, as it will not allow the bit to pull through the mouth. It is common practice to start babies in the full cheek and they are also ridden away (introduced to road work, general hacking etc.) in the full cheek although at this stage of their training I would not generally fix it as we wish to encourage mouthing and acceptance.

THE ACTION OF THE D RING:

This would fall under the category of a fixed cheek - it also helps with the turning. The racing D is worn bigger in order to prohibit the bit rings being pulled through the mouth. The D Ring is ideal for children or novice riders who are not always aware of the potential hazard of the full cheek. Fixed cheeks are fitted more snugly than a loose ring and this also reduces friction back and forth across the mouth. I have personally witnessed three accidents with the full cheek including once when a child dismounted and allowed her pony to rub his mouth against a brushing boot - the full cheek was caught under the ponies brushing boot near the fetlock (ankle) causing the pony to panic, snap his bridle and career off across a crowded show field. It can also very easily get caught in jumpers (sweaters), hay nets, etc.

THE ACTION OF THE UNIVERSAL:

Any extension above the mouthpiece will cause poll pressure (head lowering), any extension below the mouthpiece will give leverage (head raising). When the two are combined this is generally referred to as a gag action. The Universal is one of my personal favourites. The gag action is not excessive and even strong horses generally appreciate this and respond as opposed to fighting it. The Universal offers four options. The cheeks are attached to the small upper rein and the first option is to have the reins on the main bit ring, the second option is to drop down to the second ring in order to obtain more gag action, the third option is to use pelham roundings between the main and the bottom ring if this happy medium is required, the fourth option is to employ a curb strap in the small top ring to help with control and outline. This is an old showjumping trick, which is still extensively used. A Curb does not have to lay in the chin groove in order to work - if you think about many western bits the curb strap is often employed further up.

THE ACTION OF THE NS JUMPER:

This is a cross between the American gag and the elevator. It is a popular showjumping and cross country bit it offers more control, has a lifting effect in front and is especially good for showjumping as you can sit the horse more on its hocks (bottom) and turn tight. Many International Showjumpers and Eventers use this bit regularly. It is also used generally for horses that tend to lean owing to its uplifting action.

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THE ACTION OF THE ENGLISH GAG (LIFTING ACTION) (RUNNING GAG):

The recommendation is to ride on two reins and I would generally endorse this as I have known horses start off brilliantly on one rein and end up over-bending (chin on chest). It helps tremendously with brakes and outline and is often used on horses that are heavy in front or too deep (head too near ground). It is available with rolled leather cheeks (aesthetically more pleasing) but not as fast in it’s action as our rope cheeks that slip back and forth through the rings much more quickly, giving a faster and more clearly defined aid. The Eggbutt is referred to as the Cheltenham gag, the loose ring is the Balding gag (also referred to as the Polo Gag if the rings are larger), the full cheek is known as the Nelson gag, the very severe version is known as the Barry gag where two mouthpieces are used with offset joints - this mouthpiece would be known as the "W" in a snaffle.

THE ACTION OF THE AMERICAN GAG:

The American Gag offers more leverage (gag action) than the Dutch Gag. It is very useful for head raising, turning and brakes.

THE ACTION OF THE PELHAM:

 (Jointed Show Pelham)

The Pelham is a compromise between the Bradoon and Weymouth (Double Bridle). The purist would decree that it should always be ridden on two reins but if you take this to the nth degree the pelham should never be used anyway as you cannot totally differentiate. However, what is the ideal and what is practical do not always coincide and the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The fact remains that the pelham has been used successfully with one rein (employing roundings) over many many years. Children and novice riders would have great difficulty riding with two reins (too much knitting may prove hazardous!!!). The Pelham exerts pressure on the poll, the curb groove and the mouth. It is used extensively and is available in a variety of mouthpieces.

THE ACTION OF THE DOUBLES (WEYMOUTH AND BRADOON SET):

(I apologise in advance - when it comes to dressage I am a purist). Generally used for showing or dressage (only allowed in a test from elementary onwards). Fixed to the top rein, the Bradoon (Snaffle) works on a variety of points within the mouth depending upon the design of mouthpiece and in addition when a Baucher Bradoon is used the poll. The bottom rein (curb rein) attaches to the Weymouth applying poll pressure (head lowering action) and curb groove pressure asking for the correct degree of head angle (5° in front of the vertical). I do not introduce the doubles until my horses are going correctly in a Snaffle and I have a true consistent contact. The doubles are used when more engagement is required (hind legs further underneath and lighter in front - the poll should be the highest point). However, this advanced outline should almost be there in a Snaffle. The advanced outline is needed in order to perform the advanced movements. Many of these movements require the horse to lower the croup, flex the hind leg and sit on the bottom.

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INTRODUCING THE WEYMOUTH AND BRADOON (DOUBLES):

(this is a little tip that I have found extremely useful over the years and it is not only beneficial when introducing the doubles. Using the same sized ring on your bradoon as you would on your snaffle will give you far more purchase on the mouthpiece)

There comes a time when we all have to bite the bullet and there is always a happy medium. A horse that is going correctly in the Snaffle and working Elementary/Medium should not be left any later as you have to be in doubles to compete at Advanced. Plenty of time should always be allowed for the doubles to be introduced in a very relaxed, low-key manner so that there is no association between the doubles and more advanced work. At all costs we need to avoid the all too familiar double tension scenario. If the doubles are introduced in plenty of time any little hiccups can be addressed in a much more methodical manner and before they become an issue. The horse’s mouth conformation should always be assessed. The doubles when fitted should be viewed in suit. This requires two people (one on board and one at the head) and a contact taken in order that the mouthpieces shift position and angle and attain their true position, lying as they are going to do under saddle. Is anything interfering with the palate and have we given the tongue enough room? Allow the horse to become accustomed to the feel of the two bits in the mouth and always work initially off the Bradoon. It is prudent in the first instance to walk the horse in-hand, bringing back to halt several times. If everything is ok and the horse is relaxed, mount up in a school environment and work equally on both reins, performing up and down transitions from halt to trot through walk. If your horse is still accepting and relaxed in his doubles and if he hacks out sedately, do this two or three times a week for up to three or four weeks.

The reasoning behind this is we do not wish the doubles to become a focal point in the mouth and a school situation may result in this. If everything is still ok cut your hacks short, return to a school environment and start to play. It is really only from this point forth that we can start to assess our doubles. If your horse does not hack out then after a schooling session with your snaffle, introduce the doubles for 10 minutes and build up from there. Some horses for various reasons do not hack out, if this is the case choose a day where you have had a relaxed constructive schooling session in your snaffle then pop your doubles in and have a trot round on either rein only using your bradoon and build up from this point.

THE DIAMETER OF THE MOUTHPIECE:

The diameter is measured at the widest part near the bit ring. As a general guide it is considered the wider the mouthpiece the milder the bit as this gives more weight bearing surface across the bars. However, there is a happy medium. 16mm and 18mm are the most popular thickness for a Snaffle whereas the 12mm or 14mm are more popular for a Bradoon in conjunction with the Weymouth.

I receive many phone calls, e-mails etc. from people who are quite despondent "I can’t understand this - my horse always goes brilliantly for a short space of time when I change into a new bit". If your horse has a sensitive mouth then this is quite understandable and you have simply got a pressure build-up, which simply means that you need to be alternating between two or three different mouthpieces that use different pressure points. You will soon find at what point you need to change mouthpieces.

TRANZ MOUTHPIECE:

 (Tranz Link 18mm Snaffle)

The Tranz (or any other rounded lozenge) does not suffer from the major design flaw of the French link. When a contact is taken with the French link there are two proud semicircles either side of the flat link, which dig into the tongue - this often discourages a true contact. Compare the feel between the Tranz and the French link by wrapping them both around your upper arm and try to imagine how much more sensitive the tongue is. The Tranz link is ergonomically designed for both comfort and communication. This design is a very popular dressage mouthpiece. It encourages a true contact and higher level of responsiveness. It is used as a Snaffle usually on a loose ring and we also use it as a Bradoon in conjunction with the Weymouth. The link is set on at an angle activating more feel over the tongue - so when a contact is taken the rounded lozenge contours smoothly over the tongue, utilizing feel but not abusing it, thereby enabling clearly defined aids to be given through the reins. The ergonomically designed Tranz is shaped over the tongue, thereby taking up less room in the mouth and not interfering with the palate. The fitting of the Tranz (or any other lozenge) is critical - the lozenge is designed to sit centrally on the tongue and we do not want it sliding back and forth across the tongue. This bit does not shorten up in the mouth, unlike single jointed bits In order to assess the size a bit measure is available on our website. When the Tranz is in situ the lips may touch the hole that the bit ring slides through though not cover any part of it. When a contact is taken the holes will shift further away from the lips.

The ergonomically designed Tranz conforms to the horse’s mouth anatomy. It is smoothly contoured over the tongue, giving even pressure and shifting the emphasis away from the outer edges where the horse is more sensitive, encouraging contact and response. The single jointed bit shoots forward in the mouth, shortening up, creating an acute angle (nutcracker), hitting the outer edges of the bars and excessively squeezing the outer edges of the tongue, thus creating the possibility of palate interference which will not encourage a true contact or outline.

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THE WATERFORD MOUTHPIECE:

 (Waterford Baucher)

The shape of the Neue Schule waterford differs from the conventional - it is slightly slimmer and it is not as spherical a shape but more of a smooth barrel incorporating a slight rise in the centre of each link. Sometimes people look at the waterford and have a problem with it but horses generally do not as it is not rigid in the mouth but fluid bending in every direction. It therefore usually suits any type of mouth conformation and is excellent for leaning as it gives specific pressure across the mouth where the balls are and also helps tremendously with control. It generally promotes mouthing and salivation. The waterford is usually worn ¼" - ½" longer than your traditional mouthpiece in order to curl around the lips and maximize the effect.

THE DEMI ANKY MOUTHPIECE:

 Demi-Anky Loose Ring 18mm  (Unique range of bits made from a warmer softer metal with a very high copper content and the Neue Schule additive to maximise on oxidation (Nickel Free). This promotes salivation, mouthing, acceptance and harmony. All Bits in the Neue Schule range have high density stainless steal rings. DRESSAGE LEGAL)

The Demi Anky is a very popular Dressage bit. It can be used as a Snaffle or a Bradoon in conjunction with the Weymouth and usually encourages a true consistent contact. Although single jointed (and I do not usually use single jointed bits for my flatwork) it is curved and shaped very cleverly, giving an even weight bearing surface across the bars and also forming a long low port over the tongue, offering tongue relief. Owing to the shape of the bit it is very rare that palate interference occurs. I find this design is very beneficial for horses that back off or only offer an intermittent contact. Do not be put off trying this design if your horse leans or is heavy - horses often lean because they are not comfortable in the mouth.

THE SCHULUNG LOZENGE MOUTHPIECE:

 Lozenge Loose Ring Bradoon (Unique range of bits made from a warmer softer metal with a very high copper content and the Neue Schule additive to maximise on oxidation (Nickel Free). This promotes salivation, mouthing, acceptance and harmony. The Tranz Link is ergonomically designed for comfort and communication. It encourages a true contact and higher level of responsiveness)

An ergonomically designed double jointed mouthpiece - the lozenge lies on a horizontal plane eliminating any unequal tongue pressure and shifting pressure away from the sensitive outer edges of the tongue. Owing to the unique curvature of the lozenge it is convex on top of the tongue allowing more room and concave underneath the palate following the natural alignment of the tongue and the roof of the mouth thereby conforming to the horse's mouth anatomy offering comfort and encouraging mouthing and communication. Due to the thickness and curvature of the lozenge it gives an even pressure across the tongue, it does not suffer from the same major design flaw as the flat French link. With the french link when a contact is taken the two little proud semi circles joining the link are felt by the horse near the outer edges of the tongue and this is where they are most sensitive. The Schulung lozenge is one of the most popular mouthpieces with the dressage fraternity.

THE SINGLE JOINTED MOUTHPIECE:

This is over 2,000 years old and obviously since then significant advances have been made in design. I rarely use a single jointed bit for flatwork (apart from the Demi Anky) - I find the nutcracker action does not encourage a true contact. When a contact is taken, pressure is exerted over the outer edges of the bars and the edges of the tongue are squeezed excessively. There is also a danger of palate interference. However, there is always the exception to the rule so a straight armed single jointed Bradoon is available. The single joint usually has a head raising action.

THE DOVE CURVED FRENCH LINK:

Useful for oversensitivity. Secured with soft flat Nylon cord to smoothly contour over the tongue. If a horse does not salivate one has to be very observant as no plastic or rubber bit will slide as freely over the surface of the skin.

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THE MULLEN MOUTHPIECE:

Very kind giving universal mouth pressure and some bar relief. This type of design is particularly suitable if the horse is very short from the muzzle to the corner of the lip as it will not form a V shape and shoot forward in the mouth unlike most jointed bits. However, the solid mullen mouth may give a wooden feel.

THE SCHOOLING BIT MOUTHPIECE:

The 8025 Intermediere/Schooling bit - this mouthpiece is designed specifically to give tongue relief and promote a correct outline. It would not be considered severe but usually offers more control than the lozenged mouthpieces. It is very cleverly shaped to give tongue relief but be kind over the bars. Unlike other unjointed bits horses are usually very responsive in this and the eggbutt type handlebar finish is brilliant for the oversensitive mouth at the corner of the lip as it usually eradicates any rubbing or chafing.

THE TRAINING LOZENGE:

Same lozenge as the Tranz but set on horizontally as opposed to an angle. This is very good for establishing a true consistent contact - it is especially good for the sensitive mouth where the contact is inconsistent and although it is one of our most popular dressage legal mouthpieces it is often used for starting babies. For a horse that lacks the confidence to stretch into the hand it is often employed in the eggbutt encouraging the horse to take the rein forwards and down.

THE FORWARD CUT PORTED WEYMOUTH 8011:

This is a slightly more exaggerated version of the 8028 - it gives yet more tongue relief and is angled slightly higher in order to discourage leaning. One of our most popular Weymouths.

THE FORWARD CUT PORTED WEYMOUTH (THINNER MOUTH) 8028:

Usually proves to be the most comfortable Weymouth, exerting even pressure across the whole of the bars and giving plenty of tongue relief.

THE HIGH ARCHED UP OVER WEYMOUTH 90° 8009:

Gives tongue relief. Usually sourced for strong horses or where we need to lighten up the forehand. Not generally a first choice when introducing doubles.

THE MORS LOTTE WEYMOUTH 8010:

Sometimes known as the French Curb and considered to be the mildest of all Weymouths, giving even pressure across the tongue and bars. It is very slightly angled up over at 90°.

THE HIGH ARCHED WEYMOUTH 45° 8043:

Acts slightly more on the tongue than the 8009 again, usually used for strong horses that tend to lean down. Not a starting point for your doubles.

THE MORS LOTTE FORWARD ANGLED CUT AWAY WEYMOUTH 8027M:

A new version of an old favourite offering more tongue relief and communication proving, to be very popular. A mild mouthpiece and a good starting point.

THE REVOLVING CHEEK WEYMOUTH 8015:

FEI approved. A relatively new concept with an extra wide port to ensure a dramatic reduction in tongue pressure. This revolutionary design allows poll, curb chain and bar pressure without compromising the tongue and offers unique independent aids for finite control of the head carriage (head tilts, etc).

GENTLY SLOPING PORT UP OVER WEYMOUTH 8014:

A very gentle curvature ever so slightly tilted forwards, offering tongue relief and reducing any risk of palate interference.

(References: Neue Schule web site)

Of Interest:

1. Bitting Advice
2. The work of a horse riding instructor
3. Equestrian sports: Dressage
4. Lameness in a horse and types of treatment
5. List of riding schools in Essex
6. Horse passport regulations (DEFRA)
7. Equestrian book and Video/DVD shop

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